In 2002, sales of e-books were at a paltry $7 million. Consumers had few convenient ways to read them. Sony's lackluster e-reader and chunky LCD devices like the Rocketbook were the only games in town. The Kindle and Nook were a distant vision for Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and the iPad was but a dream in Steve Jobs's mind.
Fast forward to 2010: e-books are set to pass sales of $1 billion.
According to a report released today by Forrester Research, U.S. sales of digital books have rocketed 220% from last year's total of $301 million, bolstered by huge increases of e-readers to 10.3 million, up from 3.7 million in 2009. What's more, Forrester estimates e-book sales will triple by 2015, and that more than 29 million e-readers will have been sold.
With such positive signs for the industry, it's no wonder booksellers and publishers are racing into the digital age. Print books still make up the vast majority of the industry's revenues—around $23 billion in 2009. But that number is in decline, whereas e-book sales have jumped by double- and triple-digit percentage points every year since 2002.
Amazon made its Kindle the centerpiece of its business, and it paid off. Forrester says 50% of e-books in the past month were purchased through the Kindle store. Now Barnes & Noble hopes the Nook will revive its profits. The company recently released the Nook Color, and has dropped large hints that it is considering dramatically changing its business model to take "advantage of compelling digital opportunities."
Indeed, e-books still have tremendous room for growth. According to Forrester, just 7% of online adults in the U.S. who read books read e-books. That figure is expected to double in 2011.